Category Archives: Uncategorized

“No joy”

The ever-observant Wes Davis writes, “It may be my imagination, but I think I’ve been hearing Americans using ‘no joy’ in the Brit sense of ‘no luck.'”

I was not aware of that sense, but sure enough, the OED’s definition 1.g. of “joy” reads:colloq. Result, satisfaction, success. Esp. with negative, and freq. ironical.” The first relevant citation is from a 1946 book, Escape to Danger (and the quotation marks suggest a fresh coinage). “At 9.15 the workers had been down nearly forty minutes and still ‘no joy’.” Then from Stanley Price’s 1961 Just for Record: ” I..tried to get a taxi. No joy, so back into the studio.” Those and all subsequent citations appear to be British. There is also a Canadian shoegazing band called No Joy, formed in 2009.

However, as Wes noticed, the expression is creeping into American usage. I found several recent examples on Google News. Boston Globe tech columnist Hiawatha Bray (born in Chicago) writes in a recent piece: “I’ve asked Facebook for a comment, but no joy so far.”

And Tom Maxwell (born in Baltimore), in a Salon review of BBC Music’s video of “God Only Knows,” wrote last year:

Elton John, looking pained, covered in computer-generated blue butterflies, singing, “You’ll never need to doubt it.”  From the look of things, he should be singing, “Everything is satisfactual,” but no joy.

There is also a specifically American use, at least according to Urban Dictionary. A 2006 post offers this definition: “In air intercept, a code meaning, ‘I have been unsuccessful,’ or, ‘I have no information.'”

A later poster elaborates. “When a control tower advises a pilot that he has an approaching aircraft. If the pilot does not see the approaching aircraft, after a few seconds, he can reply ‘no joy.'”

If I could find out exactly how and when “no joy” entered U.S. military parlance, I would be a happy man.


Lynne Murphy, proprietress of the Separated by a Common Language blog, has since 2006 selected the most noteworthy words that have traveled from the U.S. to the U.K, and the other way round (AmE: “around”). Here are her past U.K. to U.S. selections:

2006: wanker 
2007: (baby) bump
2008:  to vet (e.g. a candidate)
2009: to go missing
2010: ginger (redhead)
2011: kettling
2012: bollocks
2013: bum

The links go to her posts. I have covered all except “kettling,” which I confess I wasn’t aware of until today; you can find my entries by putting the words into the “Search” function.

Drum roll, please. This year Lynne chose both an adjective and a noun: “dodgy” and “gap year” (links are to my posts). And her U.S. to U.K. winners? “Awesome” and “bake-off.” Awesome.

Couldn’t resist…

Posting Scottish tennis star Andy Murray’s Twitter photo.

Screen Shot 2014-12-28 at 8.52.20 AM

Note: Here’s my post on chuffed. I’ve written a lot about various NOOBy uses of “bits” (for example here and here) but not Murray’s use, for which Americans would substitute “to pieces,” if anything. Nor has “jumper” (aka “sweater) made any inroads here, although, come to think of it, I bet Nancy Friedman has made some twee retail sightings.

“The B-Side”

… is not a NOOB but rather the title of my new book, due out 22 January 22 and pictured above. To order, all you have to do is click.


Not long ago, Nancy Friedman alerted me to the use of “Panto” in her native San Francisco. For the uninitiated, in the words of the Theatre-Britain website, “A panto is a traditional fairy tale complete with songs, dances, jokes, exaggerated characters and lots of audience participation. The British love a good panto. In fact the nation has been mad on it ever since the actor manager John Rich introduced it in 1717.” (Note to self: check “mad on it.”)

Now, the term used back in 1717 was “pantomime”; according to the Oxford English Dictionary, the shortened form “panto” didn’t appear till 1852. “Panto” now predominates and emerges (as Theatre-Britain neglected to note) in the Christmas season. And speak of the devil, here’s a current offering of a troupe near me:

Screen Shot 2014-12-23 at 9.36.11 AM

The doing of pantos by American companies is a kind of cultural Britishism, but I am inclined not to view either “panto” or “pantomime” as a NOOB, for the simple reason that there isn’t any alternative word for that thing.

A milestone do

… is clearly called for. Around 11:30 last night, Eastern Standard Time, this blog passed the 1,000,000 page view mark.

Screen Shot 2014-12-10 at 10.01.54 PM

Many thanks to all who have read and commented and made suggestions. There seems to be a never-ending supply of NOOBs, so no leaving do for some time to come.

“In hospital”

Rose Jacobs, a colleague of mine at the Chronicle of Higher Education’s “Lingua Franca” blog, recently reported a use of “in hospital” on the public radio show “This American Life.” I’ve never come upon one myself, only “to hospital.” So I still count the expression as “On the radar.”

Rose also linked to an amusing New York Times column by Roger Cohen, an Englishman who, returning there after more than thirty years in the U.S., was reminded of the significant differences in language. He also found that British English had changed in his absence:

Somewhere in the interim the letter aitch had become “haitch,” with the result that spelling out my family name (surname) was painful. You had somehow morphed into the ghastly reflexive “yourself,” as in, “And for yourself?”

I had thought non-reflexive “yourself,” like “myself” (“Myself and Bill went to the movie”) was as American as it gets. Live and learn.